The sleep problem that can kill your sex life, and lead to divorce

Sleep is arguably the most important part of your day. It not only helps to restore and maintain our immune, skeletal, muscular and nervous systems but maintains our mental performance, mood, memory and even sexual health.

With the over-stimulating rigors of day-to-day activities, poor lifestyle choices (we see you third coffee,) deadlines and our obsession with technology (hello, Instagram,) it seems harder and harder to clock eight hours.

But beyond environmental factors, there’s a host of medical conditions that can affect our sleep. The most common? Obstructive sleep apnea.

Sleep what now?

Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) involves repeated episodes of partial or complete blockage of the upper airway that last for 10 seconds or longer. As a result, blood oxygen levels drop. This causes you to wake, often subconsciously so that breathing can return to normal. These interruptions can have a profound negative effect on sleep quality and can occur hundreds of times during a given night. Often, you have no idea that these events are happening during sleep.

The most common characteristics? Snoring and tooth grinding, which makes sufferers more susceptible to cracked teeth, headaches and jaw pain. Similarly, people who suffer from sleep apnea are also more likely to be very tired and stressed, which can also result in repeated poor diet choices to provide a short-term hit of energy. And so the cycle continues.

While snoring doesn’t sound like a big deal, it can lead to serious health issues. Sleep apnea leaves you more susceptible to stroke, heart attacks, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, obesity, depression, anxiety, motor vehicle accidents and poor performance at work.

So how does it affect your sex life?

Besides increasing the risk of a range of serious medical conditions, sleep apnea can also have a profound effect on sexual health. It has been shown to cause a loss of libido in women and erectile dysfunction in men. With good quality sleep, testosterone is usually produced in abundance and consequently, sexual health is maintained. However, with sleep apnea, hormonal levels drop and sexual dysfunction can occur.

What’s more, snoring is one of the leading causes of divorce. Constant interruption of sleep can place undue strain on relationships due to a lack of rest. A University of California study found that poor sleep can make us more selfish and focus on our own needs rather than the needs of our partners. Makes sense.

What steps can you take to solve it?

Diagnosed by a sleep study, the doctor then governs whether it’s mild, moderate or severe, which helps determine treatment.

It may be as simple as a combination of lifestyle changes such as diet swaps, weight loss, avoiding smoking and alcohol and adjusting your sleeping position. A splint (which holds the lower jaw and tongue forward and opens the airway) may also be prescribed. As a last line of treatment, surgery may be necessary.

The bottom line by the numbers

26% of all couples in america sleep in separate rooms. 51% of all divorces sited snoring as one of the key factors for getting a divorce

In an average lifetime, we sleep for around 25 years in total, so it’s important to be sleeping well. If you aren’t resting easy, seeing your GP or a dentist that is trained in sleep medicine is one of the best ways to identify if there’s a problem with your sleep – and to help you do something about it.